August 2000

Rafael Campo


Rafael Campo Rafael Campo teaches and practices internal medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. His most recent collection of poems, Diva (Duke University Press, 1999), is a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle and Lambda Literary awards for poetry. Poems from his next book appear or are forthcoming in The New Republic, The Partisan Review, TriQuarterly and elsewhere.
Living with Illness    Click to hear in real audio

One knits, another reads a magazine,
and if they’re anything, they’re patient as
they wait. What narratives they’ll share I can’t
imagine; all I know is that they’ll need
advice, a new prescription, someone to 
sit quietly for just a moment while 
they cry. It’s not their symptoms, not the noise
of jackhammers enlarging asphalt wounds
outside, it’s not their alcoholic wives,
it’s not the presidential primary 
that’s won or lost today—not any of 
this hurts, not even when I give a shot
in someone’s flabby, freckled arm. What does 
it mean, this endless suffering?
(The US News and World Report, months old;
the knitting, maybe a misshapen sweater?)
They always come, as if they wanted to
be understood yet not explained, laid bare
as by the temporary freedom of
the flimsy paper gowns I’ve given them
to lie completely naked underneath—
examining their eyes, I wonder if
they’ve told me everything, then listen to
their hearts as if I’d never known the truth.



The Blackouts    Click to hear in real audio

In Cuba, when the power dies at night,
They point the headlights of their rumbling cars—
Old Cadillacs and Chevys, relics of
A brighter time—to flood their crumbling rooms
With light. They’re going nowhere, yet they face
The engines of an industry that if
It wanted to, might crush them. On their backs,
They take a swig of rum; they’re comforted,
Perhaps, by someone else’s touch, the taste
Of salt that’s in the breeze with the exhaust.
Imagine how gigantic are their shadows,
Projected on the dingy walls—how far
The world must seem, that spites the open windows—
Imagine that they’re climbing in, at last,
Their roaring ride to freedom past the stars,
Across the seas, interminable like ours.



Rafael Campo: Poetry
Copyright 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 12The Cortland Review